Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Change as a catalyst for security

IT Budgets are expected to be flat for just about everybody in 2009; IT security spending will likely be the same. After years of relatively strong management support this may seem like a setback, but I’m convinced that the proverbial glass is still at least half full.

Even if new security technology rollouts are being delayed, that doesn’t mean the entire organization is standing still. Management faces pressure on revenues and costs, and they’re going to be very active pursuing any and all strategies to make improvements in both of those categories. These pressures are going to drive change, and change can become a powerful catalyst if you can influence the organization to address security issues opportunistically.

There are two keys to an opportunistic security strategy: first, a thorough understanding of the gaps in administrative, technical and physical controls across the enterprise. And second, an equally sound understanding of how to produce better security as a side effect of operational improvements.

As an example, the Visible Ops Handbook describes high performance organizations which have gained control over their change management processes, boosting efficiency. More importantly, “by putting in controls to find variance, they have implemented preventative and detective procedures to manage risk.” Security is a side effect; an externality of operational improvements.

The output of security control gap assessments effectively becomes a shopping list for an opportunistic security manager. Once you start looking at security as a positive side effect, there are at least four main opportunistic strategies available:
1. Attrition: retire systems with known gaps. Network gear with password length / strength limitations? Applications on end-of-life operating systems? Security won’t drive these retirement decisions – but it makes a good tiebreaker.
2. Relocation: consolidate critical systems from environments with low control coverage in areas with better protection capabilities.
3. Extension: broaden the asset base addressed by compliant platforms as an overlay, reducing configuration diversity and streamlining support costs.
4. Outsourcing: When transitioning, fully document procedural controls that were informally implemented, but not consistently.

Visible Ops describes the mechanics of strategies 3 and 4, but in a different context. They’re two instances of a common theme: quality and control make a strong foundation for both security and cost efficiency. Some organizations will be better positioned to take an opportunistic approach in 2009. A lot depends on the manager, but there are other factors that will also play a significant role:
1. Metrics maturity: does the organization have an objective view of control coverage and control strength?
2. Communications: Accountable system owners and project sponsors need to be aware of the current state of protection, and the expected effects (benefits) of proposed changes.
3. Line of sight to business objectives: how does coverage and exposure impact profit and loss?
4. A significant volume of organizational change.
5.Operational flexibility and creativity
to modify projects, ensuring that opportunities to improve security are incorporated.
6. Continuous improvement: once a change has been made, capture and replicate it. And just as important: make sure that subsequent change in these environments do not reopen old vulnerabilities.

“Progress, of the best kind, is comparatively slow. Great results cannot be achieved at once; and we must be satisfied to advance in life as we walk, step by step.”
--Samuel Smiles [Scottish author, 1812-1904]

No comments: